NEARLY 100 cannabis factories containing 4,500 plants have been discovered across Cheshire West in the last two years.

From April 1, 2010, to December 31, 2011, 93 cannabis factories and 4,507 plants – with a street value of £1.8m, and estimated annual yield of £5.4m – were seized in Cheshire West.

There has been a steady rise in the number of smaller cannabis farms, often in rental properties, which are linked to organised crime groups.

Officers from the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (Titan), alongside the six regional police forces – Cheshire, Merseyside, GMP, Lancashire, North Wales and Cumbria – launched a month-long crackdown on cannabis cultivation on Monday.

There will be an increase in police activity, including raids, to highlight the dangers of cannabis cultivation and urge members of the community who suspect cannabis is being grown in their neighbourhoods to call police.

Officers are also working with utility companies, garden centres, DIY stores, Cheshire West and Chester Council, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Royal Mail to help spot the signs that cannabis is being grown and the typical equipment being bought by criminals for cannabis cultivation.

Detective superintendent John Lyons, from Titan, said: “Cannabis is not the harmless drug it is often perceived to be and is the most used illegal drug in the UK.

“An increasing number of people who grow cannabis are directly funding dangerous, organised criminal gangs. These gangs are often responsible for gun crime, violence and intimidation across the North West.”

Some of the signs that cannabis is being grown are:

Strange smells and sounds

Frequent and varied visitors to a property, often at unusual times

Gardening equipment being taken into a property, such as plant pots, fertiliser, fans and industrial lighting

Windows are sealed and covered or the curtains are permanently closed

Heat from an adjoining property

Individually these activities may seem commonplace, however, together may indicate something more sinister.

Anyone with any information about cannabis cultivation is asked to call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111 or cheshire Constabulary on 101.